Writing Novels: Art or Business Venture?

Like me, I’m sure you’ve seen a billion blog posts with titles such as ‘How To Make Millions With Self-Publishing’ knocking about on the internet. According to a multitude of WordPress sites there are loads of smart people out there making ridiculous amounts of money by spurting out a novel every week and marketing them with simple yet clever strategies. On the whole I tend to ignore these sorts of articles, but I was recommended this one by a fellow writer and so decided to give it a go.

Well, I haven’t been so depressed reading something since The Road.

The title says it all really: ‘How I Sold 978 Fiction Ebooks Per Day in 2014… (The Complete Breakdown)’. Upon seeing this I was determined not to listen to the voice inside my head screaming at me to read a book, write a book or watch a cat video and proceeded to read the whole thing. Well, I skimmed a few bits – a paragraph here and there – but I got the general gist.

The article seemed sensible to begin with. It stated that book publishing has changed a lot over recent years and if you think authors still get discovered by sending manuscripts randomly off to publishers then you are delightfully naive. It is now necessary for writers to formulate a marketing plan for their work rather than throwing pages of partially edited text into the ether. It’s a sad fact that if you self-publish you need to be the editor, the publicist, the accountant and everything in-between, but it’s nevertheless a fact.

The article also gave some decent, sensible marketing points that are worth keeping note of, for instance:

  • You will definitely need to spend money on advertising at some point
  • ‘We [Writers] need to help each other promote our work so that our collective audience—readers everywhere—get access to more quality published work to enjoy.’

It wasn’t the fact that the article treated writing as a business that bothered me because I wholeheartedly believe that modern writers need to view their work as a marketable commodity. No, what really devastated me was the attitude of the article.

To demonstrate what I mean and to save you from having to traipse through this (very long) soulless self-help guide yourself, I’ve highlighted a few of my favourite parts so you can share in my pain and heartache:

“I published 36 original books in just 12 months”

36 books. In 12 months. That’s 3 a month if your maths is as poor as mine. I would place a substantial bet on these ‘original books’ being very short, poorly written and ineffectual bits of digital fodder. I understand in order to be a well-paid writer you need to produce your work relatively fast, but readers surely seek some form of quality from the books they buy. To me this is like someone saying they have had 36 jobs in 12 months, which is not an admirable achievement. It shows lack of pride, lack of worth and lack of a decent work ethic. Sure you’ll have a bit of cash, but why not become a banker instead? Wouldn’t that be a lot simpler and more effective? What is it about being a ‘working writer’ that seems so romantic and appealing?

“Instead of trying to write one perfect book, write a higher quantity of your best books”

I sort of understand where he’s coming from here but there is no such thing as a perfect book. No writer would ever sit back and say ‘yup, I’m completely done with that, it is perfect’. However, there does need to be some sort of balance between writing one book a lifetime to writing one book a week.

“The problem is that you won’t be selling 978 copies per day off of just one book. Not unless you’re lucky. And if you are lucky, screw writing, go play the lottery. You make way more money and don’t have to bleed into the typwriter to get it.”

First of all I’ll get the pedantry side of me out of the way: *typewriter

Since the dawn of time (or since the dawn of publishing houses) writing has been a torturous labour of love, and cutting corners and trying to be ‘clever’ about it will never ease it.

I’m not writing this blog post because I think these sorts of articles diminish the ‘craft’. I’m not writing this article out of jealousy or because I want to remain in a fantasy world in which I will be discovered some day by Penguin. I’m writing this article because this is giving a false impression of what writing for a living actually is. Like most popular careers it is difficult and pays very little. Maybe if you do it you should do it for the right reasons…the joy of it.

“Yes, I’ve made a great deal of dough from my fiction, but I never set a single word down on paper with the thought of being paid for it … I have written because it fulfilled me … I did it for the buzz. I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever.” — Stephen King


“The law of work seems unfair, but nothing can change it; the more enjoyment you get out of your work, the more money you will make.” — Mark Twain

E.J. Babb created Dystopic in 2012 after requiring an outlet for her love of dystopian and apocalyptic fiction. She is the author of These Unnatural Men, FOREGROUND and The Festivities of Morkwood.

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